Obituary of Werner Otto Billing
Werner Billing passed away peacefully at Leaside Revera on February 13, 2021, in his 99th year, predeceased by Ursula, his loving wife of 70 years. Dear father of Monica (Colan) and Anita (Michael); grandfather of Lowenna (Corey); brother of Gerda; and uncle of Sigrid, Waltraud, Reinhard, and Bärbel (deceased).
A memorial service will be held at Humphrey Funeral Home on Thursday, February 25, 2021, at 11 AM. The service will be limited to immediate members of the family and--due to COVID-19 restrictions--a maximum of six in-person guests. Anyone wishing to attend is required to make their intention known by texting or telephoning the family at least 24 hours in advance of the service.
Please note, however, that a link for the service will be available on this website for live-stream viewing and for watching at a later date.
Condolences may be conveyed on the "Tribute Wall" of this website.
In lieu of flowers, donations may be made to a charity of your choice.
A Tribute to Werner O. Billing
Delivered by his daughters Monica Clarke and Anita Billing
Humphrey Funeral Home, Toronto
February 25, 2021
[PLAY Étude in E Major] and [RUN photo montage]
[PLAY Moonlight Sonata]
Anita and I would like to welcome you—those here in person, as well as those watching the livestream—and thank you for joining with us in remembering our father, Werner Billing, who passed away two weeks ago. The music accompanying the photo collage you’ve just been watching featured a few of Papa’s favourite pieces.
To honour our father today and to give you a better idea of the kind of man he was, my sister Anita and I will be touching on the many experiences that made his life extraordinary. We'll also be sharing with you some memories and musical melodies that were special to him and to us. In addition, a little later, we’ll hear from both my daughter Lowenna, his grandchild, and Anita’s husband,
To begin, we would like to play for you a song that our father was particularly fond of. It is called Que Será Será, a song made famous by the well-known singer Doris Day. Papa often played Que Será Será on his electronic keyboard. Anita and I believe the central message of the song sums up Papa’s outlook on life: “Whatever will be, will be.” The song expresses the accepting attitude that seemed to help steady him through the many challenges he faced during his sojourn on earth. He would plan and prepare, but wouldn’t get all upset if his plans did not work out just how he wanted them to.
Here’s a short piano version of Que Será Será that Lowenna recorded in honour of her Opa and to help us recollect this once-popular tune.
[PLAY Que Será Será]
Papa would have celebrated his 99th birthday in just two months. As one might expect for someone who lived for nearly a century, he saw a great many changes during his lifetime.
Werner Otto Billing was born in 1922, the son of two school teachers in the southern German town of Karlsruhe. The eldest of two children, he is survived by his sister Gerda— Tante Gerdi to Anita and me—who still lives near Hamburg in Germany and might be watching our livestream today.
In his youth, Papa enjoyed many outdoor activities with his family and as part of the German equivalent of the Boy Scouts, with trips to the Black Forest in the summer for hiking and in the winter for skiing.
After finishing high school he was drafted into the army, where he served as a military administrator and later as an officer in the artillery. He knew he was very lucky to have survived the war. Fortunately, his time on the Eastern Front was cut short after his father was killed and, as the only surviving son, he was reassigned to the quiet of France. He also sometimes reflected on his good fortune in being wounded near the end of the war. After having been returned to the Eastern front when things were going badly in the war effort, he was seriously wounded while retreating. A blessing in disguise, his wound enabled him to safely ride out the remainder of the war in a Bavarian monastery hospital, which luckily for him eventually fell under American control.
After the war, Papa chose to study civil engineering—one of the two fields of study being offered in his hometown at the Technical University of Karlsruhe. As housing was in very short supply, staying in Karlsruhe allowed him to live at home with his mother, sister, and grandmother while studying. Living at home enabled him to graduate debt-free, paying oﬀ his entire tuition and exam fees in advance with what would soon become worthless
A prerequisite of his course of study was to work in construction for six months. So young Werner, the ex-army oﬃcer, laboured
as an apprentice bricklayer, building walls and digging sewer and water main trenches for a new housing complex in Karlsruhe.
Papa used to say for a long time after the war that he was always hungry; there was never enough to eat. Prolonged hunger made a very strong impression on him. Ironically, it was this hunger that played a pivotal role in his meeting Ursula Lauer, his wife to be and future mother of Monica and me. Upon hearing that he would be able to get some potatoes in a town in northern Bavaria, Papa took a long train ride to collect the precious cargo. Into his train compartment, and into his life, stepped a lovely young lady, and their romance began. Just three months later they were engaged. Mama, to be near Papa while he completed his studies, moved to Karlsruhe to work in a pharmacy. On January 28, 1950, they were married in a civil ceremony. Seventy years later, Papa and Mama celebrated their 70th wedding anniversary at the Revera seniors’ home in Don Mills, Toronto, Canada!
With jobs being scarce in Germany after the war, the newly minted graduate, Werner Billing, applied for a Government of Canada program oﬀering interest-free immigration loans to foreigners with a civil engineering degree. Papa had studied French at school, but never English. Nevertheless, he accepted the oﬀer and was soon on his way to Toronto, Canada! His mother, a French and English teacher, gave him a crash course in the basic grammar of the English language. He also started his routine of learning 40 new English words each day, a practice he continued for years, slowly building up his vocabulary until he eventually became ﬂuent in English.
Since the government paid only for Papa’s passage, Mama had to wait six months before following him to the new country. Papa’s passage was on an Italian ocean liner, and he often told the story about how he, a poor young passenger, was invited to enjoy the leftover bottles of expensive red wine that remained untouched by seasick passengers. He thought this was quite funny.
Once Papa’s credentials as a professional engineer were recognized in Canada, he landed a job as a junior engineer with Don Mills Developments Ltd. The young company was creating the “new planned community” of Don Mills on 2,000 acres of farmland northeast of Toronto. From designing all the engineering works for the northern industrial sites, to working out the storm drainage for the Don Mills Shopping Centre, Papa helped bring to life the new and innovative planning and architectural concepts proposed by the ﬁrm’s exceptional designers, concepts that have since become standard in modern town planning and copied throughout Canada.
Way back in 1954, Papa’s Don Mills Developments’ construction oﬃce was located in the old Donalda Farm mansion. In 2019, he thought it was ironic and delightful that 65 years later he found himself attending the garden wedding and clubhouse reception of his only grandchild on that very same property—now called the Donalda Club. His humble oﬃce site had been transformed into a lovely recreational facility featuring a scenic golf course in the Don Valley, overlooked by a handsome clubhouse with beautifully landscaped grounds, the core of which was the old Donalda farmhouse, his one-time oﬃce building.
The Don Mills community was very dear to Papa. Not only did it provide him with a livelihood for many years, it was the place he would call home for the rest of his life. Early on, he and Mama moved into a three-storey apartment building on The Donway East in Don Mills—where I was born. A year later our growing family moved into a brand new nearby four-storey apartment complex with a lovely landscaped courtyard. Several years later Anita was born. Finally, we all moved into a townhouse on the west side of the Don Mills Shopping Centre, where Papa and Mama lived for the next 50 years and Anita and I did most of our growing up. In their later years, Papa and Mama were able to remain in their beloved Don Mills by moving just a few hundred yards away from the townhouse, ﬁrst to the Don Mills Revera seniors’ apartments and then into the assisted-living portion of the same complex—coming full circle to once again having an address on The Donway East.
In the late 1950’s, under the visionary leadership of Macklin Hancock, a consulting ﬁrm in town design and land-use planning called Project Planning Associates Ltd. was formed. Project Planning was a multidisciplinary ﬁrm of town planners, engineers, architects, and landscape architects. Papa was hired on as a municipal engineer, but soon began specializing in traﬃc and transportation engineering, a new branch of civil engineering that
was becoming important in town planning. (You know, it is ironic and slightly amusing that a man who really didn’t like to drive made his living as a traﬃc engineer.) Project Planning and Associates Ltd. became known as one of the leading international consulting ﬁrms in town planning. In his roles as a project manager, transportation engineer, and municipal engineer, Papa not only helped build Don Mills but traveled to many places in Canada, the Middle-East, Africa, Asia and Europe as well. Saudi Arabia, Kuwait, Cairo, Dar-Es-Salaam, and Dodoma became household names for us.
Occasionally, Mama would drive Papa to the newly built Toronto International Airport. Back then we were allowed to escort Papa right to his departure gate, waiting with him until it was time for him to board. We then watched out the huge windows as he walked across the tarmac to his plane. When he returned from a trip he sometimes would bring back nicknacks from faraway
destinations—a carved wooden camel from Arabia, wooden masks from Africa, a lovely inlaid Persian coﬀee pot. These exotic treasures were displayed in our living room and became part of “home.”
When I was nearing the end of high school and it was time for me to contemplate my future, my father suggested that landscape architecture might suit my interests and talents. Of course I would need to study at university, but it would be possible for me to see ﬁrst-hand what this ﬁeld of work entailed by working summers in the drafting pool of the landscape architectural section of Project Planning. After ﬁrst learning some technical drafting skills at Seneca College, I was hired on as a summer student and I accompanied my father to his oﬃce for the next three summers. While at Project Planning, I got a taste of some of the exotic and prestigious projects the company was involved in, such as view-studies of the pyramids of Cairo and the landscaping design for the University of Kuwait. My time at Project Planning gave me a much better appreciation for the company Papa worked for and the sort of projects in which he was involved.
Papa remained at Project Planning until he formally retired in 1989. But after “retiring,” he continued to consult for Canadian ﬁrms doing work on several large projects in China.
I found out recently from Michael that Papa had not been worried about Monica making a good career choice, but apparently he had been concerned about me and my career path. I’m afraid it took me a little while to ﬁnd my way in life. I’ll never forget, though, what he said to me when I was considering going back to school to get my accounting designation, which would take
5½ years. He said, “Either way, Anita, in 5½ years you will be 31 years old. One way, though, you will be 31 and have a
designation.” It’s pretty simple logic, but it made me see clearly what my decision should be.
Given his reserved and—let’s be honest—non-athletic nature, I always admired how he would at least give things a try that he didn’t really want to do or wasn’t suited to. For example, during the many summertime visits our family made to the cottage of my Tante Hanni and Onkel Bodo, Papa would join us in the lake from time to time, even though he was not fond of getting in the water. Perhaps the best example of his willingness to participate and to go outside his comfort zone was when he actually attempted to waterski. At the time, I didn’t appreciate what a huge step it was for him to try waterskiing. I was probably around nine or ten years old, and the most important thing to me was to be able to waterski. I could not understand anyone not wanting to waterski! Well, let’s just say waterskiing was not a skill he mastered, but he tried. I can now appreciate the physical and mental effort he made.
It wasn’t only Papa’s swimming and waterskiing that made an impression on me. Another wonderful memory I have
from the cottage was of him taking me for canoe rides on the quiet lake, just him and me. I felt safe and loved.
When Monica and I were young, one of our family activities was “Game Night,” which involved playing various board games. Games were always a way for our family to have fun together. Papa and Mama continued this bonding pastime well into their retirement years. After Monica and I had moved away from home, they discovered a game called Rummy Cube (like the card game rummy, only with numbered tiles). In later years, playing this game became a nightly event for Papa and Mama, and at times visiting family joined in as well. Even as they aged, I was amazed at how well they continued to play challenging games. It seems to have been excellent exercise for their brains.
They say that when you get older you remember things from long ago better than more recently formed memories. Papa had an amusing memory of the two of us. I believe I would have been four years old, and for some reason on this particular day, Papa picked me up from nursery school instead of Mama, who normally would have done so. As Papa told it, I walked up to him, took his hand and said, “Papa, Rosalie ist blöde,” which means “Rosalie [a classmate of mine] is stupid.” Hearing this said very seriously by his four-year-old daughter was somehow endearing to him and he never forgot it. In fact, he reminded me of it often.
During our daily phone calls near the end of his life I would bring up a funny little saying he had often shared with Monica and me when we were young. His Onkel Otto (who gave Papa his middle name) had become bald very early in life. Papa liked to say, “What does Onkel Otto have?” . . . And we all had to answer: “No hair!” The play on words of Otto “having something he didn’t have, Papa found hilarious and continued to do so—and so did we.
Several times during my youth I was fortunate enough to have visited Germany. I am most thankful to have gained some first- hand experience of Papa’s native German culture. I particularly recall the excursions we made to visit the Black Forest, the day- trips to some of the beautiful baroque and gothic cathedrals, the long climb up one of the spires of the cathedral in Cologne and our leisurely boat trip down the Rhein River—where we saw the many ancient ruins and proud castles standing high up atop the steep walls of the river valley. We also took a trip to Heidelberg to view its renowned castle and the very old part of the city. After having visited Heidelberg, I especially liked hearing the popular
1920’s song I Lost My Heart in Heidelberg. Papa gave me a recording of this lovely song for my birthday after we returned to Canada.
Papa was very fond of music. As a youth he learned to play the piano, accordion, and guitar. During the 1960’s, he very much enjoyed the happy, generally upbeat music of big band leaders like Bert Kampfert, Billy Vaughn, and James Last. They played his kind of music, and I remember listening to the lovely melodies coming from the living room as I was drifting oﬀ to sleep.
Back in the 1960s, Papa liked to prepare reel-to-reel tape recordings of party music, which he then played at the dance parties my parents and their friends held in each others’ homes. Anita and I had to be very, very quite when he was recording as every sound in the room would be picked up by the open microphone.
Later, Papa fell in love with electronic keyboards. He was thrilled that they provided rhythmic accompaniment to the many classical, folk, and pop tunes he liked to play. As recently as a year ago, he still played on his keyboard during each of my weekly visits to his home.
The recording you’re about to hear now is Papa at the keyboard about a year ago . . .
[PLAY Opa at the Keyboard] (VIDEO)
When his only grandchild, Lowenna, was born, Papa became Opa. He was very pleased with her accomplishments in music. Many were the times she indulged him by playing some of his favourite pieces on the piano when she entertained residents at his seniors’ home on Sunday afternoons. She often included several German folk song medleys, as well as a few of his favourite classical pieces. In his last months, I was able to brighten his days by playing for him a few of Lowenna’s recordings on my cell phone. You know, he still moved his hands and head as if conducting when I played the Pink Panther in his ﬁnal weeks.
Here’s Lowenna playing the well-known Pink Panther—which I’m sure always conjured up amusing thoughts in his head of the bumbling Inspector Clouseau played by Peter Sellers.
Lowenna is at the piano.
[PLAY Pink Panther]
A second recording from Lowenna is in a decidedly different mood. It combines two German folk songs Papa liked, songs that probably brought back memories of his beloved homeland.
[PLAY Two folk songs]
Lowenna, who now lives in the United States, has sent along a short audio message expressing a few of her thoughts about her grandfather, which I’d like to play for you now.
[PLAY Lowenna’s message]
Outside of work Papa had several pastimes that he enjoyed. He was an intellectual and loved to read. He was relentless in his desire to acquire information. When Anita and I were growing up it was commonplace to see him reading a book in the living room. He also liked to read in bed before going to sleep. It wasn’t until I was thirteen years old that our family owned a television. Papa wanted to watch the moon landing, so he rented a TV. Yet once the television came into our home, it never left. Gradually, the entertainment on TV began competing for Papa’s attention. At ﬁrst relegated to the basement, the TV was later brought upstairs and placed in a corner of the living room, proving that even my intellectually inclined father was not immune to the siren song of TV entertainment.
The truly German tradition of “coﬀee-time” in the mid-afternoon was something else Papa enjoyed immensely. Whenever he got good grades in his high school years, he was rewarded by being taken to a Konditorei (a cake and confectionary café) where he could indulge himself in the delicious Torten (fancy cakes). When Papa retired, he and Mama revived the practice of having coﬀee and cake in the afternoon. They did this almost everyday, now more for having done well at life than as an occasional treat for having done well at school. The afternoon cake tradition lasted a long time, but eventually cake gave way to vanilla ice cream and liqueur-ﬁlled chocolates as the preferred treats, which remained his favourites right up to his ﬁnal days.
Both Mama and Papa liked solving German crossword puzzles, but this was especially true of Papa. About three years ago, after he came out of the hospital and had more diﬃculty seeing and holding a pencil, I began helping him as he solved these puzzles orally. We kept up this pastime until a couple of months ago. When COVID-19 prevented me from visiting him last summer, we continued over the telephone. I have very fond memories of these times, as they would often lead to interesting conversations about historical facts.
Dining out on special occasions was another of Papa’s favourite activities. One particularly cherished memory I have was when Papa treated my future husband Colan and me to a lovely (and expensive) dinner at a very fancy restaurant. Mama and Anita were on a trip out of town when Colan and I were introduced to ﬁne dining. The experience left quite an impression on us. We were thinking of that special meal when Colan and I invited our own daughter Lowenna and her future husband Corey to share a similar ﬁne dining experience with us a few years ago. I guess this is one way family traditions are born.
Papa was both a man of his time and a man ahead of his time. A little bit shy and soft-spoken, he was raised to believe a husband’s and father’s place in this world was to keep his family safe, warm, secure, and well-nourished. Papa did those things and much more. He provided us, the ladies in his life, with many enriching life experiences. Moreover, he provided us with encouragement and support in helping us realize our dreams and goals. I think having lost his father early in life, the responsibility for the welfare of a family weighed heavily on him. In the early years, it seemed as if he had the whole weight of the world on his shoulders.
It wasn’t until his later years, after his official retirement, that a light that had been long hidden began to shine again. He was now working for the love of it, no longer out of a sense of duty. He started volunteering, embracing his hobbies, like playing and listening to music, reading, researching, and watching cartoons—yes, he really loved that— glad to be able to dedicate endless hours to his passions. He told more jokes. He loved hearing and laughing at jokes—especially if they were his own. It was as if he could now really relax for the first time in his life.
Another quality appeared as he aged, though I think it was always there: He became a supreme optimist. Nothing seemed to get him down; or if it did, it had to be pretty bad. I know that this quality was incredibly comforting and supportive for Mama. When she was burdened with anxiety—which she often was—she would bring her problems to Papa and he would let them roll off his back, and this would calm her.
After Papa and Mama had moved to the seniors’ apartment, I remember visiting and he would have me sit with him, excitedly sharing with me all the YouTube songs he’d found on the computer, from German folk songs to hits by ABBA. He was as pleased to share them with me as I was to hear them from him. His spirit always lifted with music.
Papa’s steadiness was the perfect complement to Mama’s tendency to worry. I believe his take-it-as-it-comes attitude was essential to helping the two of them negotiate many of the difficulties they had in later years when their health began to fail. My heart truly broke when, at the beginning of the pandemic, my father found himself hospitalized (for reasons unrelated to COVID-19) purely by coincidence when the fear of COVID-19 spreading shut so much down. He was all alone in the hospital for almost four months, without any visitors, with very few telephone calls, and with no computer or books to keep him occupied and his mind active. When we did speak, he never complained and was thankful for what he did have rather than dwelling on what he didn’t have. Given his circumstances, his contentment was unimaginable to me. I found his attitude very humbling.
Though I may be dating myself by saying this, many cars didn’t have radios in them when I was very young. Papa held out for some time before buying a car that actually had one. The benefit of not having a car radio was evident when I was nine years old and we drove as a family to Florida. That was three days in the car without a radio or any social media! So what did we do? We sang songs the whole way from Toronto to St. Petersburg, creating fond memories as we did. In fact, Papa and I spent the last few months on the phone singing memorable, cute and silly songs together, very much like on our trip to Florida decades ago.
Michael got to know Papa over the last eight years and he would like to say a few words of remembrance as well. Michael . . .
Opa was a great story teller and teacher. I always came away smarter after sitting with him. He would talk to me about Napoleon marching on Moscow in 1812 or hyperinflation in Germany in the 1920’s or the Battle of the Teutoberg Velde when the German tribes beat back the Romans in the year 9. He would show me how traffic circles affected traffic flow differently than stop lights or how to calculate the width of sidewalks in China based on pedestrian volumes. He would tell me of his luncheon with the Mayor of Riyadh and how the Heinzelmännchen worked their magic in Köln. He would talk of how his company dredged the lagoon at Toronto Island or how he influenced the path of the Don Valley Parkway and hundreds of other stories and experiences. Obviously, I was never a part of any of these memories, but I am so happy that he shared them with me. Sometimes he would pull out his atlas or a text book or especially the reports of some of his own traffic projects. He was proud of his accomplishments and his impact on the world.
However, as dementia set in, his memories grew fainter and became more focused on his childhood. This past Christmas he spoke fondly and frequently of the times he and his sister Gerdi spent on Christmas Eve waiting for the special Christmas room to be opened so they could open their presents and stay up late to play with them, of the time spent singing and playing music and of visiting grandparents on Christmas Day.
And more recently he reminisced about his father buying him a new bike and riding it in the forest behind the Grand Duke’s palace, and of swimming in the Rhine, where there always seemed to be an ice cream cart – cones costing 5 pfennig.
But, as Monica and Anita have said, it was music that brought him the most joy in the past few months. I only had to say wo die grossen and he would start singing with a big smile spreading across his face thinking about the Badehosen on the Elefanten.
I will miss his stories and I will miss his smile.
Here’s a video of Opa and Omi singing this German song about elephants they liked so much.
[PLAY Omi and Opa singing] (VIDEO)
Thank you, Michael.
Papa led a very rich and full life. Soldier, engineer, music man, intellectual, husband, father, and grandfather: he played many roles in his time. Towards the end of his life, he repeatedly overcame health setbacks, until ﬁnally he just sort of faded away. Always taking everything in stride, he never complained. Que será será—whatever will be, will be, could indeed have been his motto. Goodbye Papa. Your family, your friends, and the many others you met in your professional life were greatly enriched for having known you. We love you and will miss you very much.
Before concluding, I just wanted to add that I was absolutely astonished at Papa’s endurance in his final years. In 2018, when he was 96, Papa developed a compression fracture in his spine, which resulted in spending time in the hospital and in rehab. He recovered and went home. But perhaps even more remarkable was that at 98 years old he underwent not one but two surgeries to remove kidney stones in the hope of improving the quality of his life. The surgeries were successful and he did in fact enjoy an improved quality of life in his final months. I just found it remarkable that, at his advanced age, he managed to recover from such serious medical interventions.
I’d like to end by saying how much I’ll miss you Papa. All my life you were a symbol of strength and security for me, a rock that I always knew was there. Your subdued nature only made your smiles and eruptions of laughter so much more enchanting; they truly warmed my heart. From snuggling on the couch with you when Monica and I were young to laughing and singing songs with you these last few months, I truly treasured our times together. You were always so thankful, as if I ever needed any thanks for loving you! I am so glad that you are with Mama, so that you are no longer alone.
Schlaf Papalein schlaf, I love you!
Thank you so much for coming and, to those online, thank you for watching. Your participation in today’s memorial service means a great deal to us, and I’m sure Papa is grateful as well.
The picture montage will now run again, this time accompanied by the music of Amazing Grace, and that will conclude our service.
[PLAY Amazing Grace] and [RUN photo montage]